At the Movies with Alan Gekko: It Follows

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe, Bailey Spry, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary/ Runtime: 100 minutes

If you look at the title of “It Follows,” and can’t tell what the movie is about, then this movie is already working its magic. I say this because “It Follows,” the second feature by writer/director David Robert Mitchell (“The Myth of the American Sleepover”), works as well as it does because its creators deliberately keeping the viewer at arm’s length. Indeed although this film is at its heart and core equal parts a ghost story, though it’s not dead people who are haunting our suburban protagonists and about teenagers who have sex, though it’s neither a simple celebration nor condemnation of under-age making out and all that goes with it. Instead, “It Follows” does a fantastic job of both prolonging and heightening the potency of high school-age fears until they appear to be ancient existential terrors.

Indeed it is safe to say then that “It Follows” is not really about sex, but rather about the unbearable, and unsinkable mood that descends upon you when you come of age, and which also for that matter never completely dissipates, not even after climactic sexual, or other pleasurable acts.

Thus since “It Follows” concerns the never-ending state of hormonal crisis we call “adolescence,” the film is also about illogical actions that have long-lasting consequences…..something which Jay, a quintessentially sullen teen and our main heroine, learns the hard way. By that I mean soon after she has sex with, and is summarily chloroformed and abducted by a guy she’s been going out with named Hugh who, after tying up Jay and waiting till she comes to, deliberately, but impatiently explains everything. Thus we soon learn that Jay, through him, has just found herself the latest victim of a sexually-transmitted haunting and in order to alleviate herself of this haunting, she must pass this burden on to another person by having more sex. If she doesn’t, she will be relentlessly pursued by someone she knows…or maybe it will be a stranger…possibly living and/or dead and also whoever follows Jay—it varies from encounter to encounter—cannot be seen by anyone else, but can definitely hurt her and if it catches up to her it will kill her. Eventually Jay manages to make it home and upon passing this knowledge on to worried friends, like stymied love interest Paul they consequently decide to try to help Jay find a way to get rid of whatever it is that’s after her before it’s too late.

Now don’t panic: “It Follows” is not nearly as obtuse as it sounds. Honestly if anything, it’s a little frustrating in its limited view of kids that are always concerned with, but never really thinking about sex as Jay and her friends take for granted the fact that they’re living in a constant state of excitement. Thus since that’s a given, Mitchell doesn’t exoticize, or exaggerate that aspect of their characters. He does, however, refuse to explain what Jay feels when she’s pursued by various pale, seemingly zombie-like followers to the point that since Jay’s not really introspective she only cursorily talks about her naive pre-sexual expectations and all that we as an audience really get to know is that she expects sex to be momentous and/or freeing, as she airily says to herself after she and Hugh fool around. Yet instead, all it really turns out to be is a momentary respite that’s inevitably followed by a series of confrontations with people she may or may not know that if they catch her kill her (aka in realistic terms and realistic conditions she finds herself having to move into adulthood). Thus I feel that the horror at the heart of “It Follows” isn’t a singular threat, but rather it is the vague knowledge that tragically nothing lasts forever. A fact that we get to witness in the form Jay and her friends trying to connect with each other physically, but only wind up realizing that, while their bonds are not skin-deep, they’re also not liberating. It is also here where “It Follows” gets frustratingly—but pointedly—murky as we soon feel like the question being asked of us as an audience to answer is “if life after sex is purgatory, does that mean sex is bad, or that sex simply isn’t a cure-all for juvenile awkwardness?” Indeed if there is any answer to be found to this question in this film it’s the latter which seems more likely given an unnamed book passage that Jay’s loyal friend Yara reads aloud later in the film which only simply manages to underscore both Jay, and through her the audience’s, implicit understanding of sex as an out-of-body vanishing act. Indeed suffice it to say then that Jay’s haunting either frustrates this vague fear, or confirms it. Either way she is being pursued and honestly she will never know why and it is this uncertainty that not only terrifies Jay, but us as the audience as well.

Now what makes the villain of It Follows so effective and disturbing is its simplicity with which it dispatches its many victims. Indeed throughout the film’s runtime we never see the true form of the follower and this approach makes the entity even scarier in my book. This is because with those rules in place It could easily take human form and replicate the look of your best friend, but unless you have one that is constantly drooling and walking slowly I would not panic. Yet while you may feel that due to that approach Jay is in no immediate danger because the follower stalks its victims with the same immediacy as the zombies in ‘Shaun of the Dead’, the fact however that it never stops, never shows any mercy and never appears to have any real meaningful motive to speak of will quickly make you reconsider that. Indeed while that also may make some people believe that the villain at first glance is underdeveloped and weak for horror films this is actually a true godsend. That and by never properly seeing it what terrifies us the most then is left to our imagination and instinct of fear. Plus when you add in the fact that it never has a reason for what it does thus ensuring that you cannot ever change its mind and no matter what you say or do it will continue to just try to kill you this not only helps heighten the nightmare even further, but also gives us a brand new iconic horror monster in the process as well.

Now the cast for this film is not really well known and while Jay, as played by Maika Monroe, has been in some films she’s just not a name that immediately pops up a ’la Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie. Honestly though that’s going to change after this film as not only is she strikingly beautiful, but she absolutely nails the character so well that when she’s scared, you are scared for her and the rest of the cast does just as good as well with their respective characters. Plus there’s even a nice love triangle we are treated to in the form of one of her longtime friends having loved her since they were kids yet he’s not quite her type so she instead tries to hook up with someone else and this creates a lot of tension in no small part to the fact that although he’s willing to sleep with her and take the malevolent entity from off her neck she won’t let him due to not wanting to lose him and this actually creates a nice little bit of drama that one doesn’t normally see in a horror film of this ilk.

Now the score in this movie is simply unnerving and remarkable due to how it manages to do a fantastic job of adding to the tone thus creating an even more frightening and uncomfortable feeling when “it” has appeared to terrorize our heroine. Indeed it’s truly been a great while since such a possessing and haunting score has come along so to say that this was desperately needed is a gross understatement. Plus while the locations that this film was shot at may seem bland I feel that this was an absolutely perfect choice because in my opinion the everyday can make us shiver a hell of a lot more than you think in a horror film than unfamiliar locales can at times. This is because they are places that we can identify with and while usually we feel complacent and relaxed when we go there what ‘It Follows’ makes us brilliantly do is become paralyzed by fear when revisiting such well-known locations like a home, a school, the beach, the cinema and even the local swimming pool through the lens of this film with that kind of primordial dread also finding itself embedded in the film’s visual style as well. Indeed this is because Mitchell’s camera visually unifies the characters’ shared world, either through static panoramas that show several characters occupying the same space, or tracking shots and/or pans that follow characters from one end of the room to the other. Perhaps just as terrifying though as whenever we are inside a car the road that stretches out in front of the characters/us is long, seemingly infinite, and there is never a set destination in sight and it is that concept that is far more unnerving than any of the film’s more traditional scare scenes, though those are pretty good too. Yet perhaps the most disquieting aspect about “It Follows” is the way it presents sex as neither abnormal, nor beneficial but rather as a way of indiscriminately drawing pre-existing emotions out, like a cruel genie that can never be returned to his lamp and, upon being released, subsequently is also free to wreak all kinds of chaos.

All in all in a year that was filled with blockbusters and money makers, It Follows will be remembered by many as simply one of the best films of the year. Indeed here is a film that not only embodies all things horror, but also pays great homage to what makes people adore the genre in the first place. Suffice it to say then that like a good brand of medication, without the side-effects, It Follows is just what the doctor ordered. On a scale of 1-5 I give It Follows a 4 out of 5.